Thursday, December 31, 2020

Pastors - These are Tough Times to Lead a Church

(Found this old card while looking for other things.)

When I was younger a pastor told me that the church was one of the most difficult organizations to lead, because it's an all-volunteer army. The people are not getting paid. A pastor can't say, "You need to do this because we're paying you to do this!" (If you're paying people to do things and you have to say this, you have problems.)

Francis Chan, in his Letter to the Church, said that pastors in America today face an exceptionally difficult time to lead a church. As if leading the church wasn't tough already. And, he wrote before the pandemic happened!

Chan writes:

"For those who are not in church leadership, be mindful that this is a very difficult time to lead. I have been in leadership positions for over thirty years. There has never been a time like this. 
Social media gives everyone a voice, so everyone chooses to raise theirs. 
Voices are plentiful; followers are not. 
Strong opinions are applauded; humility is not. 
I am not saying that changes do not need to be made among leaders; I am simply calling for grace. Imagine how difficult it would be to coach a team where each player refuses to follow because he or she has a better plan than the coach. 
Welcome to the American Church in the twenty-first century." (p. 25)

Add to this the Entertainment and Happiness factor, and the problems increase.

Then, add kids sports leagues on Sunday mornings...

...  sprinkle in some Consumer Culture...

... some Show Business... (See Neil Postman's brilliant work...)

...toss in some microaggressions...

...and the need to be coddled...

...add a decreasing neural capacity to focus...

...addiction to cell phones (See my worship song "Lay Your Cell Phones Down and Worship Him")...  (See Moby's video here...)

... the need to be "liked" (See the work of many here, including Jean Twenge)...

...and many overworked people needed to keep the Consumer Machine operating...

...and, oh yes, the pandemic...

These are tough times to lead anything.

My ideas on how to combat all of this,  without resorting to an extreme Benedict Option (which makes more sense every day), is Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Pastors and Christian leaders, let us stay attached to the anchor of our souls, to the foundation of our faith, to knowing Christ, and making Him known. For our souls have been forged in fire for such a time as this.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

How to Communicate in Conflict



                                                                        (Ypsilanti, MI)


(Linda and I studied with David Augsburger in seminary. Here is one of the most important things God taught us through David.)

COMMUNICATION AS SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE (CARING + CONFRONTING; from David Augsburger, Caring Enough to Confront)

Ephesians 4:15 says: “therefore speak the truth in love; so shall we fully grow up into Christ.” Here we are told, in communication, to be both loving and truthful, caring and confronting.

Work at communicating both caring and confronting in the middle of marital or relational conflict.


Here are the attitudes to have and hold to.

SEE ALSO...

Pray the Lord's Prayer This Way



(Linda, with one of our great-nephews, Josiah.
Note: my father made the music stand as a gift to Linda's sister Lora  and her husband Grady,
on their wedding day.)

When I understood more about the kingdom of God I began to pray The Lord's 
Prayer in a different way. Now I pray like this, because I believe this is how the early Jesus-followers understood it.

God, let your kingdom come,

not only in the future,
but here,
presently,
in our experience.

God, reign over our hearts and minds,
NOW.

As we are conscious of our surroundings,
As we take our next breath,
As we walk into whatever this day has for us.
Let things be here,
in our homes,
in our church families,
in our community,
in our hearts and minds,  
on this earth,
as things are in heaven.

Let us see earth, through heaven,
and respond accordingly.

Truly!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

My Book of the Year Is....

 


MY BOOK OF THE YEAR

The most important, most helpful book I read this year is The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution.

Wow! I just finished it. I took copious notes, and am going to slowly re-read it.

This book traces the transformation of human identity into a primarily psychological understanding of personal identity as a state of mind or a state of feelings. 


three of the RUNNERS-UP...

Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made everything About Race, Gender, and Identity - and Why This Harms Everybody. By Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsey.

This is a savaging, intelligent assault on Critical Theory. It's written by two atheist scholars. What initially caught my attention were these two atheist reviews.

"Many people are nonplussed by the surge of wokery, social justice warfare, intersectionality, and identity politics that has spilled out of academia and inundated other spheres of life. Where did it come from? What ideas are behind it? This book exposes the surprisingly shallow intellectual roots of the movements that appear to be engulfing our culture."

—Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Enlightenment Now


"Is there a school of thought so empty, so vacuous, so pretentious, so wantonly obscurantist, so stupefyingly boring that even a full-frontal attack on it cannot be read without an exasperated yawn? Yes. It is called postmodernism. If you sincerely want to understand what postmodernism is, read this exceptionally well-informed book by two noble heroes of the enlightenment project. If you have better uses for your neurons and your time, stick to science. It’s the real deal."

Richard Dawkins, emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford



The Decadent Society: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success. By Ross Douthat. 


This book... explains what happens when a rich and powerful society ceases advancing—how the combination of wealth and technological proficiency with economic stagnation, political stalemates, cultural exhaustion, and demographic decline creates a strange kind of “sustainable decadence,” a civilizational languor that could endure for longer than we think.


So much for "progessivism," right?


When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse. By Chuck DeGroat.


The evangelical church in America has, for too long, nurtured and supported narcissism in our leaders.



BEGINNING TO READ...


For Christmas I received Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity. I'm thirty pages into this book that is big, not just in terms of page length, but in wisdom, analysis, and understanding.






Blessed Are the Mono-Taskers, for They Shall See God


                                                                         (Redeemer sanctuary)

My Payne Theological Seminary class is called Spiritual Formation. My main assignment is: set apart one hour a day, five days a week, for seven weeks. Use this time to pray and listen to God. Keep a record of the voice and activity of God in a spiritual journal. 

Needed: listening skills, ability to meditate, and focus, to allow God to dive deep in your heart. 

I also teach three philosophy courses at Monroe County Community College: Introduction to Logic, Introduction to Western Philosophy, and Philosophy of Religion. The ability to stay on task is needed to learn philosophy, and to think philosophically. A philosopher must have a great capacity to go inward, to ponder, and ruminate. 

Spiritual formation and philosophy are slow cookers, not microwaves. Both, if attended to, produce lasting fruit in a person’s life. Oak trees grow from the soil of slow thinking about life’s big ideas. 

Deep, lasting, relationships are slow-cookers, too. This includes the God-relationship. Knowing God involves more than theoretical knowledge, just as one learns to ride a bike by actually riding it, not by reading books about bike riding. 

Kierkegaard told us that a pure heart, untainted by distractions, wills one thing. To “will one thing” is to focus on, attend to, be captivated by, be still before, one thing. What is the benefit of that? Nothing less, said Jesus, than the visio dei

Blessed are the mono-taskers, for they shall see God.


(From my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.)

Monday, December 28, 2020

FOUR RESOLUTIONS FOR 2021

Resolutions

(I took this photo in Istanbul. The reflection of the man makes it look like he is eyeing the Turkish delight.)


The word "resolution," in music, means "the passing of a voice part from a dissonant to a consonant tone or from dissonance to consonance."  

For example, if a musical piece is in the key of C, G is the 5th. A musical piece that ends on the 5th begs to be resolved to the 1st, or tonic chord, which is in this case C. The unresolved 5th causes one to inwardly strain and lean towards the anticipated 1st.

To "resolve" means: fixity of purpose, resoluteness. For example: His comments were intended to weaken her resolve but they only served to strengthen it. (From here.)

This week I am printing out these four resolutions, which I resolve to live out. I'll carry them with me. I will pray them, often. I want them to get inside me, and become living and active.

1. I Resolve to inquire of the Lord.

2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. (2 Chronicles 20:2-4)

Bring life's dissonance before the Lord. Inquire of God, regarding the chaos and incompleteness. You've tried to figure it out yourself; instead, seek God about this. Not just once in a while, but today, and every day. 

Place your trust in God, now. Get alone with God and receive direction. 

As God called Jehoshaphat to declare a fast in response to unresolved dissonance in Judah, so God has promised to shepherd you through all things. God is willing to direct your paths.

Resolve to inquire of God, today and every day.

2. I Resolve that my mouth will not bring destruction.

2 May my vindication come from you;
may your eyes see what is right. 

3 Though you probe my heart and examine me at night,
though you test me, you will find nothing; 
I have resolved that my mouth will not sin. 4 As for the deeds of men—
by the word of your lips
I have kept myself
from the ways of the violent. 
(Psalm 17:2-4)

I will keep my mouth shut, unless my words serve to build up others.

I will meet, often and alone, with God. I will abide in Christ. I will dwell in his presence. God will shape and form my heart into Christlikeness. (Gal. 4:19) This Jesus-heart will produce what comes out of the space between my lips.

Resolve that your mouth will not destroy, today and every day.

3. I Resolve not to defile my soul with the enemy's "turkish delight."

7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego. 
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel... (Daniel 1:7-9)

Daniel refuses to allow King Nebuchadnezzar to redefine his identity. Daniel "resolved"; i.e., Daniel "set upon his heart" not to pollute himself. 

Daniel set his heart not to compromise himself by accepting redefinition as a Babylonian. This is the matter of allegiance.

When Linda and I were in Istanbul, Turkey, we tasted their famous dessert - called "Turkish delight." Turkish delight will be familiar to fans of C.S. Lewis. In Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund meets the White Witch, who seduces him with a delicious piece of candy called "turkish delight." He eats it, betraying Aslan, and his defiled heart falls under the Witch's dark spell.

Today, resolve not to compromise your allegiance to Jesus as your Lord.

4. I Resolve to know Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

Learn about Jesus. 


Learn Jesus. 

Fix on him. 

Sum all things up in Jesus.

Resolve to know Christ and him crucified. Today.

Tomorrow...


***
My two books are...

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Prayer as Re-membering

Image result for john piippo prayer
(I took this photo of a woman praying in Jerusalem)


Remembering is a spiritual discipline. When we give thanks, it's an act of prayer often associated with something God has done for us. 

Prayer-remembering is about the past. When that past is positive, it is accompanied with thanksgiving. We remember how God re-membered us, how God put us back together when we were falling apart.

To re-member something, literally, would be to "member again" that which has become dismembered. Parts that were once together because they were meant to be together, got separated, but now are rejoined.

When I pray I am often re-minded (I am mindful again) of something that has "left my mind." God brings something to mind, and I am re-membered. 

This is good. It is clarifying and focusing when this happens. In prayer, in the God-appointment, God puts pieces of life back together again. God's Spirit achieves, in the act of praying, a great unifying.

I don't think you have to try or strive to re-member. Rather, as you consistently meet with God, conversing together in the slow-cooked prayer exchange, a re-membering will take place, by the Spirit. This has been, and remains, my ongoing experience.

This is good news, and provides an incentive to pray. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put you back together again, but God can. As you pray God will put the pieces of your life and life in the kingdom back together again. (As some have said, to pray is to change.)


***

My Two Books 


Image result for john piippo books

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing:

How God Changes the Human Heart (summer 2021)



Image result for john piippo books

Remembering as a Cure for Fear

Dandelion seeds in my front yard

I will remember the deeds 
of the Lord in my life.

Linda’s mother suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease for many years. This horrible illness caused her to slowly lose her memory. One result of her memory loss was an increase of fear. 

One afternoon Linda, her mother Martha, her father Del, and I were shopping in a mall. At one point Linda and Del left for an hour to shop together, while I stayed with Martha. We sat together for a minute, and then she looked at me, her eyes filled with panic, and asked, “Where’s Del?!” 

“He’s shopping with Linda. He’ll be right back,” I responded. 

This put Martha at ease. But only for a few minutes. Forgetting what I had just said, Martha looked at me again, and asked, “Where’s Del?” 

“He’s with Linda. He’ll be right back.” 

This happened several times in an hour, with Martha forgetting, me reminding her, she calming down, then forgetting and filled with fear, asking “Where’s Del?”, and me reminding her again. Martha not only had forgotten what I said to her, she had forgotten a more basic truth, which was: in Del, she had a husband who would never, ever, leave her or forsake her. He was always by her side, Alzheimer’s or not.  

There is a “spiritual Alzheimer’s disease” which results in forgetting the many times God has rescued and delivered us, provided for us, and been with us. Such forgetting breeds fear. The more one forgets the deeds of God in one’s own life, the more one becomes fearful in the present moment. 

The antidote to this is: remembering

“Remembering” is huge in the Old Testament. The post-Exodus experience of Israel is grounded in remembrance. The Jewish festivals are remember-events, such as Passover, when the head of the household sits with his family and asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” In response, the past is recounted, and we hear again how God delivered their people out of bondage in Egypt. This remembering, reminding them of God’s past faithfulness, brings fresh hope. 

My spiritual journal functions as the written memory of the voice and deeds of God, in my life. I take time every year to re-ponder my journals. In doing so, I remember what God has done for me, how he has delivered me from bondage, and how he has answered many of my prayers. I re-read of past times when I was afraid, or worried, and then re-read how God came through, and my worry dissipated. 

I do not, I will not, forget the deeds of the Lord in my life. The spiritual discipline of remembering brings renewed hope in the present, defeating the onset of spiritual Alzheimer’s disease.

- From my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God, Chapter 13, "Praying and Remembering" 

Consumer Religion Fuels Pastor Burnout

Better keep the people happy or they won't come back.

Lead us not into temptation...


G. Jeffrey MacDonald, author of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul, wrote an op-ed about clergy burnout. "Clergy burnout" is a hot topic, because many pastors and Christian leaders are flaming out.

For many, the fire is gone. 


Here are some of MacDonald's key points. 
  • Pastors work too much.
  • A main source of clergy flame-out is "congregational pressure to forsake one’s highest calling." Because...
  • "Churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them." Religion has become consumer-driven. (Christianity has been shaped into this world's mold.)
  • "As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy."
  •  Clergy should not give sermons that make people feel uneasy. What consumer would pay to hear that?!
  • MacDonald mentions Greg Boyd's church, when thousands of parishioners quit Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn. I was at a conference with Greg. We were sitting in the front row together. Greg got up and preached a beautiful, Jesus-filled message on the Kingdom of God. After he finished he sat down next to me and said, "That's the message I gave which caused a few thousand people to leave my church." I thought, "You have got to be kidding me!" I also thought, "The American Church is in deep trouble."
  • Many parishioners, says MacDonald, "[want me to] keep my sermons to 10 minutes, tell funny stories and leave people feeling great about themselves. The unspoken message in such instructions is clear: give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we’ll get our spiritual leadership from someone else." (Keep the people happy, or else!)
  • "Clergy need parishioners who understand that the church exists, as it always has, to save souls by elevating people’s values and desires. They need churchgoers to ask for personal challenges, in areas like daily devotions and outreach ministries.

    When such an ethic takes root, as it has in generations past, pastors will cease to feel like spiritual concierges. They’ll again know joy in ministering among people who share their sense of purpose. They might even be on fire again, rather than on a path to premature burnout.

***
See also - 

Thousands of Pastors Will Burn Out and Leave the Ministry This Year


Saturday, December 26, 2020

REMEMBER

(I wrote these reminders to myself many years ago. I put them on an email, and sent the email to myself, periodically. I called it "REMEMBER." Because I can forget. I'm posting this, mostly for myself.)

Be myself. Be who God made me to be, with all mstrengths and infirmities.    

Overcome fear & intimidation.

Overcome denial.

Overcome addiction

Do not compare...

Stimulate the mind with intellectually challenging reading.
 
Physically exercise

Get outside and ponder God's creation

Listen to excellent music

Write beautiful worship songs

Remember blessings

Enjoy Linda, Dan, Josh 

God works all things together for good!

Live in gratitude

Remember - you're not alone

Eat well

Pray about struggles

Enter deeply into God's presence

Know the Father's love

Play the guitar

Lead worship with passion

Preach with passion and excellence

Teach brilliantly

Laugh

Don't lose your joy

Lead with confidence

Mentor with great discernment...

Counsel others

Write the books

Take beautiful photographs

Love others deeply

'Twas the Day After Christmas

(Bozeman, Montana)

Today is December 26.  

The day after Christmas is important for all who follow Jesus. 

How we spend our time, talents, and resources today signifies who, and what, we believe in.

Linda and I live in the overflow of the birth of Christ. Christ is the gift that keeps on taking, and giving. 

Today, Christ is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, reconciling us to our Creator.

Today, our sorrow is traded for His joy.

Today, our imprisonment is acquitted on all counts, and His freedom is bestowed.

Today, Christ takes and gives. Today is a day of taking and giving.

The Incarnation is the pivot upon which our lives turn. 

Because of Christmas, we will never be the same. 

As splendid as Christmas Day was, today is better. The long winter waiting has ended. The long-expected Messiah has come. 

Today, He is wonderful.

Today, He is counselor.

Today, he is Mighty God.

Today, He is everlasting Father.

Today, He is Prince of Peace.

Decades ago, Linda and I met Him. And everything in our lives changed. Christmas, the day of endless taking and giving, began, in us. Christmas, with all its transcendent realities, was born. 

Christ-mass. 

The worship of Christ. 

It's December 26. The real celebration goes on in the hearts of all who have been found by Him.



***
My two books are: